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Ghettoside,' a novel by Jill Leovy, explores one of the most disturbing aspects of American society. The reality is that African-American males makeup approximately 6% of the American population but account for approximately 40% of the country's murder victims. The protagonist, who has served as a crime reporter in Los Angeles' most dangerous areas for the last decade, tells the tales of the residents of these groups and their plight in the novel. In the novel, she employs artistry and elegance, as well as some indignation, but in a managed way, despite the fact that her statements are profound and insightful. She highlights the harms that justice has inflicted on this society. She has interacted very closely with members of the African American society affected by this fact (Pillsbury 567). She analyses the lives of the people living in the most dangerous neighborhoods which carry two terrible burdens.
First and foremost, the violence in these neighborhoods is at alarming rates. The demographic is also affected by a small percentage of the population, yet falls as the highest demographic as victims of violence. At the same time, she focuses on the poor neighborhoods that most of the population is concentrates. The entire book is organized around the central focus of investigating the murder of one of the young men in one of these neighborhoods. This victim, Bryant Tenelle, is a son of a black homicide detective from a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). She, however, drifts to tell the plight of many other victims, and their families.
The author uses a number of stylistic devices to effectively communicate her themes. For instance, homicides are portrayed to be so common that everybody knows a person who has fallen victim to homicide. Terror is also painted as a common attribute of the people who live in such societies, as they are all either scared for their lives or someone else’s. She also discusses about ‘the Monster’ which was the worst period in the history of homicides in the country (Sides 76). She uses this technique to explore the profoundness of issues of violence in these neighborhoods. Throughout the book, the picture of normalcy in these neighborhoods is portrayed as full of terror and victimization, just to depict the weight of the issue of violence in these neighborhoods. By using the technique of hyperbole, the author is able to illuminate the weight of violence in these societies. This, in turn, made it easier for the audience to understand the subject precisely, by painting the perfect picture for the readers.
She also highlights the role of the rest of America and the country’s justice system in making these societies safe. She uses controlled outrage in an artistic and graceful manner throughout the plot, to highlight that as a country, we are doing very little to protect the young men of the African American descent. She highlights how the violence has been ongoing for decades, but as a society, we have done very to stop the situation from getting to where it is today. For instance, she points out how homicide departments get short shrift and sometimes even ignored. She recalls of a time when a detective reported that there were no humans involved in a certain case. In addition, she highlights the American criminal justice system as both oppressive and inadequate, as they have failed to solve impunity surrounding the murder of African American males. She says that the system is not remorseful to these men, even in an era of preventive policing and serious sentencing (Pillsbury 67). The use of this stylistic device in Leovy’s writing illuminates the plight of the victims for the audience’s view. In using controlled outrage, she appeals to the emotional sense of the audience, connecting the plight of the victims and their successors with the audience. While this stylistic device helps to engage the audience, it is also successful in effectively communicating the themes and major ideas of the book.
Throughout the plot of the book, ironical circumstances are effectively portrayed by the author, in that the terrorized witnesses tend to avoid working with the police instead of cooperating with them. Law enforcement agencies are constitutionally solely mandated to help uproot crime and violence from the American societies. However, by not trusting these agencies and refusing to cooperate, witnesses only risk making life in these neighborhoods even worse than it already is, as it promotes more crime. The gangs already know that the citizens are terrified and will not rat them out, thus taking advantage of the situation to further propagate crime and their selfish interests. This irony equally adds and takes away from the effectiveness of communicating the themes to the readers. It obscures the readers' view of the subject since the witnesses’ unwillingness to communicate and collaborate with law enforcement agencies is an impact of the fear that gangs have instilled in society. However, it also adds to the effectiveness since it shows how this society is functioning contrary to the way the justice system was designed to function. In these societies, those who seek justice or even aid its course are the most vulnerable members of society instead of being the heroes that help reform it (DeCarlo 16).
The author also employs an analytical approach to her writing style, to analyze the plight of members of society from these neighborhoods. Instead of focusing on the broad issue of police brutality that many scholars and journalists have run to explore, she targets the priorities of law enforcement agencies to reduce the cases of violence in these neighborhoods. Her analysis of the communities that live in these neighborhoods paints the justice system as the door to door salesmen that are trying to promote a justice system nobody is interested in. She shows how people were not interested in collaborating with the police to bring justice to the society. Her analysis finds that this unwillingness to collaborate with the law enforcement agencies is not just a street code against telling people out but is instead an actual fear that terrorizes the society about being killed or injured if they collaborated. It did not matter what the police were discussing with the civilians since association with the police risked being killed or injured (Leovy 89). She also finds that the LAPD and the justice system generally have also not done its part in solving the issues of crime and violence in these neighborhoods. She depicts detectives struggling to obtain the resources they require for the solution of murder cases. She also brings to the attention of the readers that while the rate of homicide in Watts is high, the perpetrators of the crimes usually go without punishment. She also highlights that the system is not accountable thus failing to respond to the killings and injury (Brodin 23). Analysis illuminates the perspective of the audience regarding the subject because it identifies and explains the issues that cause this situation of crime and violence in places like Watts.
In trying to explore these issues to the most profound level possible for the effectiveness of theme communication, the author uses many examples in these neighborhoods. This technique does not, however, improve theme communication but instead obscures the perspective of the audience regarding the subject matter. There are numerous characters in the book that it is impossible for the readers to keep up with their stories, that they begin to seem unnecessary and even distracting. The readers may sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the characters of the story and fail to appreciate the manner in which the themes are communicated. The insights that she has worked so hard to provide in the plot of the book may sometimes be downplayed by the many characters and their different plight, obscuring the intentions of the author for her readers. However, it makes it clear even with these many characters, that the justice system’s failure to address issues of crime and violence in very poor communities. It has negatively contributed to the bizarre and unsettling fact that: 'Regardless of being only 6% of the American population, African-American males comprise about 40% of the victims of homicide in the country'.
Jill Leovy, in ‘Ghettoside,’ emphasizes that the American society and the justice system is not doing enough to reduce the rates of crime and violence in very poor neighborhoods mainly occupied by the African American community. She also emphasizes that the law enforcement agencies should make solving crime a top priority for the American authorities because it greatly affects the country’s population. However, she omits the trends on recent reports of homicide rates in Los Angeles, which have reportedly gone down. The rates of Los Angeles murders over the past few years have seen a great decline, which might render the claims of her book useless, but it is also important to note that its insights are very relevant. This is thanks to homicide being the leading killer in the United States for males aged between 15 and 34 (Kirsch 76). For law enforcement agencies, solving these murders should be a top priority as Jill Leovy points out in ‘Ghettoside.’ The issues she emphasizes on and omits are ethically justifiable because they are both authentic and unquestionable, and they their omission or emphasis positively contributes to communicating the themes of the book. It represents the letter and spirit of the subject because it objectively addresses the subject throughout the plot, to effectively communicate the themes. The important points are also ethical as they are authentic and unquestionable.
Decarlo, John. "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America." (2015): 175.
Pillsbury, Samuel H. "Black Lives Matter: Reviewing Jill Leovy, Ghettoside: A True Story of
Murder in America (Spiegel & Grau 2015)." (2016).
DeCarlo, John. "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. Jill Leovy. Reviewed by John
DeCarlo." The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 42.3 (2015): 16.
Sides, Josh. "Interview with Jill Leovy." CALIF HIST 92.3 (2015): 11-15.
Brodin, Mark S. "The Murder of Black Males in a World of Non-Accountability: The Surreal
Trial of George Zimmermann for the Killing of Trayvon Martin." (2015).
Pillsbury, Samuel H. "Black Lives Matter." Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 13 (2015): 567.
Leovy, Jill. Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
Kirsch, Adam. "Farewell to Arms." Foreign Policy 216 (2016): 76.
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